How Culturally Significant Mammals Tell the Story of the Social Ascension of Black Americans

For the Native Americans, kya (the turtle) symbolizes wisdom. For Europeans, bears are an important element of their history. Which animals mean the most to you and why are they so important? Cultures around the world have empowering relationships with wild animals, and meeting those animals promotes a deeper connection to spirituality, geography, and pride.

For Black people, our connection to nature and the cultural significance of mammals stems from traditions practiced during the era of slavery and continues into modern pop culture. As we commemorate the nation’s newest federal holiday on June 19, June 19 (observed this year on Monday, June 20) provides an opportunity for both celebration and reflection. We celebrate the emancipation notice that finally came to Texas to end slavery in the last Confederate state in 1865. We also reflect on the harsh legacy of oppression that still permeates our society and reinforces white privilege. We celebrate how black people in the US often represent the ultimate rags-to-riches narrative.

As a Black environmentalist who studies large mammals, I believe June 19 should also be a time for the nation to reflect on wild mammals who share in the epic story of a people’s transformation. These mammals that, over time, have influenced and encapsulated the rise of blacks. Come take this journey with me.

We share the Earth with almost 6,000 species of mammals. In general, what most black people (like most other people) think they know about mammals comes from animation and pop culture, but remember that Disney and rap music are not experts on the subject. Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with the wildlife around us, the problem historian Carter Goodwin Woodson wrote in his seminal 1933 book, The bad education of the black keep going.

Film depictions of enslaved people in the US omit crucial components of their lifestyle. For example, enslaved people did not rely solely on their enslavers for rations, but supplemented their diets with meat from wild animals such as Virginia Opossums. By applying hunting skills for self-reward, the enslaved built their psychological independence. Plantation owners may have thought this saved them feed costs. However, hunting possums allowed enslaved people to break the rules and explore the forest at night (since possums are nocturnal), which may have aided navigation and strategy for future escapes.

Virginia opossum, the only marsupial in North America. Credit: Arco/TUNS/Alamy Stock Photo

While fighting for their freedom, fugitives from the transatlantic slave trade were not only hiding from their captors and bounty hunters; they still contributed to the nation’s economic growth. In the 1800s, black sailors built cities through work in the whaling industry. One such town was New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the renowned Frederick Douglass found his first home after escaping from slavery. Sadly, the contributions of former and runaway slaves were marginalized, despite direct advances as inventor Lewis Temple improved the harpoon design, for which he never received credit. A common species hunted by freemen and fugitives was the sperm whalewhich was most famously performed as Moby Dick.

Unfortunately, dogs have long played a role in black trauma. Whites trained dogs to track down so-called fugitives to aid in lynching efforts and to terrorize protesters during civil rights demonstrations. Fortunately, in later years, we have been able to reap the benefits bestowed by “man’s best friend.” We use dogs to support agricultural activities by herding, protecting and driving away pests. We even draw inspiration from them for art, as is evident in painting. part wolf of the great neo-expressionist artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. We recover the language with “that’s my dog”, slang for a trusted friend; and the iconic growl of the recently deceased rapper DMX successfully evokes the kind of bullying that embodies the “top dog” found in the social structure of gray wolves.

Because our connection to place runs deep, the pride many Blacks feel is tied to our strong African roots. As such, various African mammals help us develop our sense of empathy and wonder towards wildlife. For example, african elephants insight reminds us that humans are not that different. They remember particular events and places with a kind of mental map, and even mourn the loss of relatives. “When Great Trees Fall,” a mourning poem by Maya Angelou, is one of many literary works by black artists that feature elephants.

Over the years, blacks have gone from a dark and harrowing past to becoming iconic symbols of fashion. Wearing and designing clothing with camouflage became a statement of resistance during the rebellions. The skin serves as an emblem of wealth. Musicians such as Lil Wayne, Future and Jermaine Dupri have mentioned chinchilla in their songs. They are some of the most expensive fur in the world because an extremely high fur density (hair per follicle) provides a lot of insulation and warmth. Perhaps the most famous ode to this mammal comes from Beyonce’s 2006 hit “Ring the Alarm,” with the opening lyric saying “she gon’ be rockin’ chinchilla coats” as a symbol of confidence and independence.

Spirituality, folklore, and often Christianity have served to stabilize, embolden, and preserve African Americans throughout the centuries. Putting into practice a famous Bible verse, Ephesians 6:11, many of us have had to “beef up” when faced with society at large or known enemies. Therefore, we revere mammals that possess weapons to help them survive, from the spines of hedgehogs to the quills of porcupines to the tusks of walruses. But animals like white bellied pangolin, found throughout Africa, remind us that armor is often not enough. This mammal is covered in scales and yet on the verge of global extinction. Like the bodies of black people who were bought, sold and traded for exploitation in even more horrific ways, pangolins are one of the most illegally trafficked animals in the world. But unlike the descendants of the formerly enslaved, who refused to go extinct, the fate of pangolins remains unknown.

Colorism has plagued the black community with some giving a better deal to lighter-toned people as they can often pass for non-black. Shadow matters with darkness commanding respect both in human society and in the animal kingdom. But now, with more inclusive views of beauty, we celebrate the blackness of all hues, including Tupac’s classic homage “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” We are especially attracted to the power conjured by black cats; recall Janet Jackson’s 1989 hit “Black Cat.” More recently, the Marvel sensation Black Panther, which raised more than $1.3 billion, evoked universal pride among the black community. Ultimately, we were portrayed with intelligence, status, and strength in a Hollywood that often turns blacks into villains and underlings. Of the 40 cat species worldwide, nearly half have black or melanistic color morphs. So, the term “panther” does not refer to a species, but to panther It is the genus of big cats. the black jaguar it is particularly ferocious, a skilled predator found throughout the Americas. It is capable of killing even crocodiles.

Black Panther. The Panthera genus includes species of lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. Credit: Anna Valova/500px/Getty Images

All cultures depend on mammals for food and companionship. We show reverence to its power and beauty. We integrate them into our language and customs. We even emulate their behaviors, as we flaunt possession and physicality to attract peers and gain the respect of others.

Acknowledging history includes understanding the evolution of our relationship with nature over time. Juneteenth symbolizes the rise of a nation and the transformation of a people, and that transformation is revolutionizing our world. The history of the African American is a history of social ascension, since even with persistent inequalities, our culture has permeated all facets of society. Our creativity, skills and innovations are creating one of the most powerful global economies. Although we remember the importance of the past, our future, including our environmental impact, will be a rich and flowery history of will and wealth that cannot be divorced from wildlife.

This is an opinion and analysis article, and the opinions expressed by the author(s) are not necessarily those of American scientist.